Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Sam Adams

Books in Review

A Historical Treasure

(December 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 11, December 1943, pp. 350–351.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New Course
by Leon Trotsky
The Struggle for the New Course
by Max Shachtman
Published by the New International Publishing Co., New York. 265 pages; price: $1.50 paper; $2.00 cloth.

The American and British student of the revolutionary movement, particularly of that phase that has now become known as Stalinism, will often have had occasion to confront references to The New Course, written by Trotsky in 1923. If such a student reads the Stalinized version of the history of the Russian Revolution and the development of the Bolshevik Party, an endless tirade against this book will be found. But in this reading there will be little or no textual reference to the work.

On the other hand, a study of the growing Trotskyist literature will likewise reveal only references or textual quotations, for the Trotskyist movement made the error of not long ago publishing that book which opened the struggle against Stalinism and forecast the kind of degeneration which must follow in the world revolutionary movement unless the cancer of bureaucratism was rooted out of the state and party apparatus in the newly-conquering proletarian revolution.

It must be constantly borne in mind that the great theoretical disputes which divided the early political labor movement and which, in a brief period of time, came to the forefront as the predominant features of the so-called Russian struggle did not actually originate the struggle against Stalinism. That such theoretical disputes were “in the cards" was not revealed in the early conflict over organization questions. The fact that the theoretical disputes, subsequently, not only overshadowed the struggle over “party" questions and the nature of the regime, cannot, however, historically speaking, or in any other way, diminish the enormous importance of the way in which the struggle broke out.

With the publication of The New Course, a big void in the anti-Stalinist literature has been filled. For now it is possible to trace the origins of the great struggle to preserve the gains of the October Revolution. While the conflict over such questions as regime in the state and the party, democracy and centralism, the rôle of the vanguard party in relation to the mass of workers, the relation of the workers to the peasantry in a backward country overwhelmingly peasant in population appeared to be prosaic questions, they can now be seen in their historical importance as completely related to the theoretical and political struggles which logically and inevitably followed.

The distant past now comes to life in the way it reveals the path of organizational degeneration – but a degeneration based upon a political degeneration away from revolutionary theory, program and activity. The terrible bureaucratic regime which arose in Russia on the basis of the rejection of the ideas expressed in The New Course, has had its reflection not only in the Communist International, completely dominated by the Russian Communist Party under Stalinist direction, but was thereafter transferred and integrated into the radical labor movement of the entire world. Wherever Stalinism had its representatives, we have had the automatic carry-overs from the regime in Russia.

The bureaucratic regime of Stalinism found its counterpart in the bureaucratic regimes of the official labor movements and these in turn coalesced in different forms to produce a vast network and technique of bureaucratic rule visible in the whole decaying social order of capitalism.

The prevailing idea of The New Course is that the progress of the Russian Revolution and the world labor movement and, conversely, the obstacle to “organizational" degeneration, lay not merely in a “correct political program," but in the active democratic intervention of the masses in the state power conquered by the proletariat and also in all the spheres of economic and political life of any state in which the working class had power. But it was not only true for a state where the working class had taken power; it was just as true in the Capitalist world in the working class organizations, under conditions where the bourgeoisie still maintained power.

Thus the struggle for democracy is a constant struggle at all times and under all conditions. In The New Course, Trotsky revealed not only what the proper attitude on this question should be, but ably demonstrated that this was the traditional position of the Marxian movement, and it was threatened now, not by the old bureaucracy of the moldy Second International, but by forces in the very party which had made the Russian Revolution, and that the democratic existence of the revolutionary party was not alone threatened, but the very workers’ state which that party had erected.

There is a prevailing legend, nurtured by the Stalinist falsifiers of history, by the bourgeois and petty bourgeois journalistic admirers of Stalinism, that it was Lenin the “Blanquist" who supplied the theory and practice behind the totalitarian degeneration of Stalinism. But The New Course, which is based on the real beliefs of Lenin, dissipates this view.

A study of Lenin’s writings on democracy and bureaucracy reveals not only that Lenin had nothing in common with his traducers, but that from the very beginning of the Russian Revolution – even if we add to this history the adoption of the Tenth Party Congress resolution barring the existence and activity of party factions, he carried on a vigilant struggle to prevent the bureaucratic degeneration which followed the period immediately after the War Communism and the Civil War. This is completely borne out in the break between Lenin and Stalin immediately before the leader of the Russian party died.

The fact that The New Course is somewhat obscured by the passage of time is overcome by The Struggle for the New Course, by Max Shachtman, the excellent essay appearing in the same volume. The Struggle for the New Course is an invaluable companion piece to the Trotsky book, because it not only traces the origin of the book, but places it in the context of the struggle which was then beginning in the Russian party and which subsequently went through many convulsions to the final triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia. Even more important than this, however, is the fact that Shachtman traces the development of the conflict within the Stalinist movement into the conflict over similar questions within the Trotskyist movement. The main differences which developed between the present Workers Party and the Cannonite Socialist Workers Party, supported by Trotsky, over the nature of the Russian state, was similarly not confined to the borders of one country. This struggle too revealed its international ramifications, for it was a discussion which existed at one time or another in almost every anti-Stalinist organization.

The impact of events of the last ten years, especially the impact of the war and the formation of alliances between the two imperialist camps, merely revealed the Stalinist degeneration in a new light. In this great dispute, Trotsky revealed, in our opinion, an inability to draw the necessary conclusions based upon his own analysis, namely, that the workers’ state no longer existed in Russia. Trotsky clung to an outworn belief, based on a specious formula: Russia is a workers’ state because property is nationalized; because property is nationalized, it is a workers’ state. And thus the present misinterpreters of Trotsky’s ideas are left with the theory of the “degenerated workers’ state" which leads them into the ludicrous but dangerous position of proclaiming the victories and advances of Stalin’s armies as the victories and advances of nothing less than the socialist revolution!

The present book, The New Course and The Struggle for the New Course, takes the most important questions which confront the world socialist movement and provides an answer to the past and shows the path to the future.

No one can really be without the book. It is truly a historical treasure.

Top of page

New International Index | Writers’ Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 9 July 2015